Frances Williams

aria was forbidden by her husband Jeff to leave the house even to go to the mailbox twenty feet from her front door. Jeff was terrified she might commit adultery. Most of Maria's congregation thought Jeff was being ridiculous, but the preacher told Maria to obey her husband. Who was right?

In Ephesians 5:22 the apostle Paul commanded, "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord". In verse 24 he said, Now as the church submits to Christ so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything". The term "everything" seems all inclusive. Perhaps Maria should have trained her dog to bring in the mail?

I think not. God never gave the husband unlimited authority over his wife. On the contrary, the wife is to submit to her husband "as to the Lord". The relationship of Jesus to His "called out ones" defines the terms of submission. God never requires the wife to silently suffer emotional, physical, verbal, or any other kind of abuse. Nor does God want the wife to comply with an immoral or ungodly request.

With Love

Instead, the wife's submission is designed to promote the "one flesh" ideal planned by God from the beginning (Gen. 2:24). Eve was formed from the body of Adam. When they were united in marriage they became "one flesh" again. This refers not Just to their sexual union, but to the love, commitment, and spiritual oneness of marriage. Anything less is an insult to God's plan for human sexuality (1 Cor. 6:16). In fact, our ultimate union with God is spoken of as a marriage (Rev. 21:2).

The wife does her husband a disservice if her submission leads to the tearing down of their "one flesh". In our example above, Jeff did not trust his wife to be faithful, although she had never given him cause to doubt her. It is very possible that Jeff felt unlovable, and therefore believed that Maria could not really love him. Feeling unsure of his own identity as her husband, he may have been tempted to commit adultery. (He asked his wife to watch pornographic movies with him and his friends.) Rather than face up to the wrongness of his own temptation, he may have assigned the temptation to his wife. If Maria had become a recluse as Jeff commanded, she would have given credence to her husband's false beliefs. It would have been absurd and harmful to her marriage and family to submit to this demand. Maria did need to submit to Jeff, but in a different and Christ-like way.

With Purpose

Christ never asked his followers to submit to authority just for the sake of submission. There is always a purpose for our obedience. It is one thing to pay unjust and burdensome taxes in order to live honestly and peacefully in this world. It is another thing to stand by and quietly watch your family being slaughtered by the governing authorities. Christ himself warned of the Roman attack which would come upon Jerusalem, saying, "when you see the Abomination of Desolation ... then let those who are in Judea flee..." (Mat. 24:15). Looking at a more modern example, who would condemn those Christians who defied Hitler s authority and hid Jews in violation of Nazi Germany's law?

In marriage, as in all our relationships, Christ is our supreme teacher and example. A wife is not to submit to her husband purely for the sake of submission, at any cost. Her submission must be in order to promote their "one flesh".

In Ephesians, Paul's instruction to husbands and wives is based on the community oneness found in Christ. This is the wider context of his message. For this reason, he begins with a plea for mutual submission: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph. 5:21). How is this mutual submission to be expressed between husbands and wives? No less than the assembly of saints, husbands and wives must speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:25), forgive each other (Eph. 4:32), and act in love toward one another (Eph. 5:22).

With Servanthood

Nevertheless, the wife is to be subject to her husband, because he is her head, as Christ is the head of His body. Headship here refers first and foremost to the source of life and growth. Eve was formed from the body of Adam. Christ established Himself as the head of his body, because he is the Saviour who brings it into existence (Eph. 5:23ff). The whole body depends upon Christ as it grows Up into Him who is the Head (Eph. 4:15-16). Christ did not come to demand power and prestige, but to give of Himself, even unto death. He came to wash feet, not to lord it over his followers. In the same way, the husband must love and nurture his wife as his own body, and give himself for her (Eph. 5:25-30). He must serve his wife, not dominate her with selfish or arbitrary demands. In this manner he demonstrates his mutual submission in Christ.

Husbands need to be able to listen to their wives' and children's criticisms and emotions, especially anger. It is the mark of a mature leader to be able to accept a person's anger, even inappropriate anger. For instance, Dolores loved to serve her husband's meals to him, but felt insulted when Dave asked for water refills. This did not make sense to Dave, but if he wanted to love Dolores, he would have to accept the fact that his wife felt hurt when he asked for water. It is very difficult to learn to accept the anger of another person. God listened to David's anger in the Psalms when David accused God of abandoning him. God had not abandoned David, but He valued the communication of David's heart to such an extent that He preserved it for us to read. A man who cannot listen to pain and frustration cannot be a Christ-like head of his wife, or family.

With Truth

The wife must put Christ first in her life, and her husband second. She must submit to her husband "as to the Lord", not in place of the Lord. She must speak the truth in love, forgive her husband for his failings, and refuse to comply with those demands that would destroy their "one flesh" relationship. It is extremely harmful to a marriage to follow the advice of those who advocate wives manipulating their husbands instead of openly communicating their feelings and needs. For example, Jennifer liked to dress and act like an insecure, flirtatious, little girl in order to get love, attention, and money from her husband. Needless to say, her husband did not trust her.

If wives do not speak the truth to their husbands in love, the truth will make itself known in less godly ways. Joan respected her husband and always tried her hardest to submit to him. She had squashed her own feelings and needs for so long that she was hardly aware of them. But she spent many, many days so depressed that she could not get out of bed. Marcia thought of herself as an extremely submissive wife, but no matter how she tried, she could not get into the car on Sunday mornings in time for her husband to be able to start his Bible class on schedule. In this way, without even realizing it, she got a subtle revenge for having to submit to her husband's domination. Whenever Betty got together with the other ladies of her congregation she used this time to list all the thoughtless and abusive behaviors of her husband. She would repeat the sarcastic comments she had made to him in each instance. Helen would always speak in generalities during Bible class, but everyone knew she was making complaints about her husband. He would turn red, and later retaliate in the same indirect manner.

God wants wives to submit from their hearts God wants husbands to submit from their hearts. In Christ Jesus there need not be over-dependence, nor an angry independence, but rather a mutual interdependence between husband and wife. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband" (Eph. 5:31-33).